A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton
24 May

Know Your Product: A Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

Cotton.

You sleep on it at night, you dry yourself with it after a shower, and you’re probably even wearing it right now.

Despite being so common and so useful (it represents nearly half the fibre used in the textile industry), cotton has a dark side. The story of the way cotton is grown, harvested and produced has some nasty truths that impact our planet and its people.

Cotton is sometimes referred to as White Gold because of how lucrative it is in developing nations, like Uzbekistan. But what are the actual facts behind these claims and how can we make sure the cotton we wear and use has cared for the earth, waterways and the people who helped make our garments?

The Sad Truth – Cotton

The Planet

Water

Cotton is the thirstiest crop in the world. It requires a shocking 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt! To put that outrageous figure into perspective, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days.

Pesticides

The production process for conventional cotton uses a massive 16% of the world’s insecticides; more than any other crop in the world. Pesticides can infect local waterways, destroying the environment and harming animals. Pests continually build a resistance to the chemicals used, so new pesticides are continuously developed, resulting in greater pesticide use and spiralling costs for farmers.

The People

Pesticide poisoning isn’t limited to the environment. Food and water supplies can be easily contaminated from runoff, and it’s the local communities, sometimes already facing hardship,  that suffer through disease, illness and even birth defects.

In many developing countries, cotton is hand-picked. In countries like Uzbekistan and India, it is usually children who do this backbreaking work, taking them away from pursuing a life-changing education while running the risk of injury and illness.

Want to know more about cotton? Have a look at our “How Ethical is Cotton?” material guide.

The Alternative – Organic Cotton

But it’s not all bad news! Organic cotton is a good sustainable solution, which is grown without the use of pesticides, from seeds which have not been genetically modified.

Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability and the use of fewer resources. Chemical-free agricultural land even stays fertile much longer than land which is hampered by the constant use of pesticides, so organic cotton farmers generally have a longer cotton commodity lifespan than otherwise.

The benefits are clear; using fewer pesticides means that the health of workers improves dramatically, communities can live in relative health with access to clean water and food supplies, and the land has a longer lifespan because it is not being damaged by chemicals.

On the social front, organisations, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), have been working to make sure organic textiles also enhance (or at least do not harm) people’s lives.

GOTS covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of textiles, ensuring that both environmental and social standards, such as safe and hygienic working conditions, no workplace discrimination and fair pay rates, are respected.

By seeking out organic cotton alternatives to everyday products, you can quickly act ethically and sustainably by encouraging the production of cotton grown without pesticides and reduce harm for the planet and people!

A Couple of Things to Note

We know that consumers are increasingly looking for products that are better for them and for the environment. The search for ‘organic’ products began in the food industry and is now reaching the fashion industry, with more and more brands starting to offer organic options (the most recent is Primark, which launched its first organic denim jeans) to their consumers.

However, organic cotton production is not perfect: because organic cotton yields fewer fibres than GMO cotton, it requires more plants and so more land to produce.

Plus, before the organic fibre is turned into your favourite t-shirt, it requires lots of processing and dying, which are also very chemically intensive. Unless the item garment is GOTS certified, it can be hard to tell if the dyes used in production were organic or not.

Nowadays, using the word ‘Organic’ can be in incredibly persuasive: beware of greenwashing and of fashion brands claiming to do better when they are still not addressing other vital issues.

But don’t get us wrong, organic cotton, if sustainably and ethically produced, is a beautiful alternative to conventional cotton.

As always, if you want to have a better impact on the people and the planet, we recommend buying less and buying better, by checking your favourite brands on the Good on You app and web directory! We’ve also listed a few of our favourite organic brands below:

Where to Buy Organic Cotton

 

Beaumont Organic

Rated: Good

Beaumont Organic is a UK-based slow fashion brand that blends simple style with ethical production practices. Founded by Hannah Beaumont-Laurencia, the brand also has its own charitable foundation which supports people in Fiji.

See the rating.

Shop Beaumont Organic.

LANIUS

Rated: Good

“Love Fashion, Think Organic, Be Responsible” are the maxims of Lanius. It uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton. All Lanius facilities are SA8000 certified and it is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation.

See the rating.

Shop Lanius.

Organic Basics

Rated: Great

Organic Basics offers high quality sustainable fashion basics for men and women in organic materials. The Denmark-based brand puts sustainable thinking at the centre of everything - it only chooses fabrics that care for our environment, and only ever partners with factories that care about their impact.

See the rating.

Shop Organic Basics.

Bhumi

Rated: Great

Offers

Bhumi – Blankets and Throws

Bhumi's luxurious throws and blankets provide your body and mind with the indulgent rest it deserves. 20% off blankets with code GOOD-BHUMI. (Ends: 14 JUN)

Checkout code: GOOD-BHUMI
Shop now

Bhumi – Sateen Bundles

Treat yourself with the lustrous smoothness of pure organic cotton sateen. Your bedroom sanctuary all in one bundle! 20% off sateen bundles with code GOOD-BHUMI. (Ends: 14 JUN)

Checkout code: GOOD-BHUMI
Shop now

Bhumi makes 100% Fairtrade, organic, and vegan casual wear and basics for men, women, and children.

See the rating.

Shop Bhumi.

Kowtow

Rated: Great

Kowtow uses organic, fair trade cotton and non-toxic dyes to produce its clothes. It designs elegant, timeless womenswear, and also has a range of ceramics.

See the rating.

Shop Kowtow.

Vege Threads

Rated: Great

Vege Threads is ECA certified and makes all of its clothing in Australia. Its range is sustainable and eco-friendly, and includes men's and women's basics, as well as women's activewear and swimwear.

See the rating.

Shop Vege Threads.

Birdsong

Rated: Good

Birdsong is a boutique label producing gorgeous womenswear. Its clothes are handmade in London by knitters and seamstresses earning above the London living wage. The business is built on a philosophy of fairness and authenticity, promising customers “no sweatshop, no photoshop”.

See the rating.

Shop Birdsong.

Conscious Step

Rated: Great

Offers

Conscious Step – Men’s

Who said socks are boring? Stand out and stand up for a cause, with these fairtrade numbers. 15% off men's socks on orders over $30 with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 24 JUN)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now

Conscious Step – Women’s

Every little step counts: make it consciously, and give back by wearing these colorful organic socks. 15% off women's socks on orders over $30 with code GOODONYOU. (Ends: 24 JUN)

Checkout code: GOODONYOU
Shop now

Premium fair trade, organic, vegan socks which support great charities.

See the rating.

Shop Conscious Step.

Tentree

Rated: Good

tentree is a lifestyle apparel company that plants ten trees for every item purchased! The brand uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton. It uses renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact.

See the rating.

Shop tentree.

Editor's note

feature image via Unsplash. This article was updated in May 2019. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 2,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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